Chris Lautenschlager – Ward 12 Forum Audience Questions
Chris Lautenschlager (Green party), is running for Ward 12 City Council. He participated in the October 19th Candidate Forum. These are his answers to audience questions that we were unable to get to.
- Describe how you have displayed leadership in the community.
- Please give an example of what you have done to improve your neighborhood.
- Identify how you plan to earn the respect of colleagues to create majority support for initiatives.
- If elected, how will you ensure that residents receive high-quality essential city services?
- The City has set goals to increase cyclist and pedestrian traffic in the coming years. How will you work to ensure that Ward 12 residents benefit from these initiatives?
- What are your thoughts on streetcars? How can transportation be improved in the next four years?
- Will you push for body cameras on police if the department says they aren’t ready?
- What is your stance on police involvement in foreclosed homes?
- What have you done and what do you plan to do to improve equality?
- Do you support women’s reproductive choice and gay marriage?
- Backyard fires can affect quality of life for some residents. Do you support rules that would limit or eliminate backyard fires?
- Small businesses in the 12th Ward can face heavy bureaucratic load from the City of Minneapolis. Specifically, how would you streamline city regulations to make Minneapolis a more small business friendly place?
1. Describe how you have displayed leadership in the community.
I was unanimously elected to the Board of Directors at the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association, and have been fortunate enough to have worked on some great neighborhood projects, such as Sandcastle (the newest Lake Nokomis concession through the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board), and Luminous, the new gateway public art installation at the 46th Street Light Rail Station. Yet I am most proud of the work I spearheaded in 2011: I organized, designed, and created SENA’s social media program, including a complete overhaul of their website.
Earlier, SENA’s only avenues for sharing information were their bimonthly newsletter mailed to residents’ homes, and a somewhat unwieldy website that dated back to the 1990s. Our organization didn’t have the time or resources to invest in a new version, so I led the way in creating a website that would make it possible for staff, fellow board members, and volunteers to effortlessly modify it without special training. Best of all, the site is hosted at no cost to SENA, and allows us to invest our relatively limited resources in other community projects.
Later, I supplemented SENA’s online presence by founding and building their Facebook and Twitter profiles. The award-winning SENA News is still published and mailed every other month, but now we can share important information as it happens.
2. Please give an example of what you have done to improve your neighborhood.
In early 2012 I was appointed to the Advisory Committee for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Lake Nokomis concession project. The goal of the project was to find a concession that could properly serve the neighborhood and park users at Lake Nokomis.
After two months of preliminary meetings and an open house, I helped draft a Request for Proposals for potential businesses. In July 2012, along with three other committee members, I voted for Doug Flicker and Amy Greeley’s proposal, Sandcastle. Although there were many commonalities between their proposal and others that were sent to our committee, the main reason Sandcastle was selected was because of their solid commitment to engaging in sound, environmentally friendly business practices.
Undoubtedly, any new business needs to be mindful of the impacts they can wage upon our environment, but in the case of our Lake Nokomis project, potential vendors needed to be acutely sensitive to the conditions in which their business would be founded: in a gem of a park, near a lake, on top of a beach, bordering the main walking path, and adjacent to the bike trail.
In their proposal and their interview, the Sandcastle team allayed both the committee’s and the community’s concerns over waste, pollution, and the overall protection of the environmental stability found at Lake Nokomis. Their team emphasized sustainability, driving towards a zero-waste impact, using a windmill for generating a portion of their energy, discussed a solar roof (unfortunately in the end, they weren’t allowed to include this in their final design), and that their supplies would be reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Their food would be locally sourced and they would only offer sustainably grown/raised food. Moreover, the Sandcastle team expressed their interest in adding an education component to their enterprise: they wanted to develop youth classes and activities that taught children about the importance of building a sustainable future at the lake. No other proposal offered this.
I voted for Sandcastle because I knew the enterprise would minimize waste, it would protect the park infrastructure already put in place, it would draw and encourage new visitors to our park, it would educate our youth on why sustainable business practices matter, and it would increase revenue for our park system in order for them to maintain their current facilities, build new ones, and expand their overall mission. Sandcastle opened on June 27, 2013.
3. Identify how you plan to earn the respect of colleagues to create majority support for initiatives.
Quite simply, my staff and I will do our research, including oppositional research (because one must always know their opposition’s argument as well as their own), find respected community partners, ask a lot of questions, and then ask some more. I will not be dismissive of contrary arguments, and will not make divisive comments for the sake of publicity. There is no room on the City Council for self-promotion, grandstanding, or impulsive promises.
One earns respect by listening first and speaking second, not the other way around. The work of City Council is a Group Project, not an Independent Study. One must effectively collaborate, and sometimes compromise for the best solutions possible, not make ultimatums, or talk boldly for the sake of seeming bold.
4. If elected, how will you ensure that residents receive high-quality essential city services?
Despite the widely diverging opinions on the tenure of our outgoing City Council Member, any new elected official will have awfully big shoes to fill when it comes to handling essential city services. If you haven’t been forced to think about our city’s sewer system lately, you probably have Council Member Colvin Roy to thank for it.
Of course, we need to make sure 311 is revamped properly. This is not just about making the service available on nights or weekends; it’s about making the service better. Yet a City Council candidate can promise bells and whistles until they are literally blue in the face, but they need to understand that there are a great number of people, like Minneapolis’ current CIO, Otto Doll, who is already working on some terrific projects right now. By 2017 we will hopefully see an IT Commons for all city workers and Minneapolis residents, where we will have real-time, robust city information at our fingertips. It will be a platform that promotes real collaboration between stakeholders (whether they are city officials, businesses, community organizations, or private citizens). People like Otto Doll need support, not candidates or council members who want to unilaterally ride roughshod over the work already being carried out.
5. The City has set goals to increase cyclist and pedestrian traffic in the coming years. How will you work to ensure that Ward 12 residents benefit from these initiatives?
Minneapolis is doing well to increase lanes and trails, but remains well short of increasing our bicycling mode share and increasing the overall number of cyclists. To meet these challenges, I believe the city must do a few things.
First, let’s not create mile after mile of cycletracks, or protected bike lanes, just for the sake of boosting our numbers. Instead, we should focus on carefully planned and executed cycletracks that privilege quality over quantity. There is not one cyclist I have spoken with that is interested in replicating the quasi-cycletrack found on First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis: past users describe it as dangerous, often misunderstood (vehicles continue to park in it), and poorly maintained (unplowed snow typically prevents individuals from even using it).
Second, the city needs better bike parking. The addition of bike corrals throughout the city would demonstrate support for bike and pedestrian friendly businesses help protect our young boulevard trees and signposts, and prevent bikes from interfering with sidewalk access for pedestrians.
I believe that many more people would like to bike within this city, but many of these residents—both young and old—have reasonable concerns for their own personal safety, as well the security of their bikes while they are parked. To meet its targets, the city of Minneapolis can’t simply paint more lines or sharrows on our streets and expect that the numbers of bicyclists will increase. Instead, the city needs to invest in bike infrastructure that appeals to many different riders at many different skill levels.
In terms of projects off the top of my head, despite Hennepin County’s efforts to address bicycling and pedestrian traffic on East 42nd Street (between Cedar and Hiawatha Avenues), we need to start over. I sat in on the final meeting with some of our elected and appointed officials, and I think everyone ended up disappointed by the final result on 42nd. We also need to make sure that the 28th Avenue Bridge/Tunnel project (where the paths along Minnehaha Creek cross 28th) is carried out effectively.
6. What are your thoughts on streetcars? How can transportation be improved in the next four years?
I am fully in favor of adding streetcars to our transportation network, however I do not support the recent financing plan for the Nicollet/Central line. From a financial standpoint, I do not believe that diverting $60 million generated by some of the new housing developments along Nicollet and Central to fund a single streetcar line is a reasonable use of dollars right now. It is often argued that the streetcar line will bring development to the area, yet development is already occurring…and a great deal of it will be paying for the streetcar. Money generated from these properties could have gone to areas where a safe, robust transportation network is sorely needed, North Minneapolis for instance.
Additionally, there are too many questions over this particular streetcar line. Who will ultimately end up operating the line, Met Council or the city of Minneapolis? What steps have been taken to open up Nicollet and Lake, home to the much maligned (but to many nearby residents, much needed) Kmart?
Too many candidates seem to think that they have to decide between streetcars or enhanced buses, as if it were an either/or choice. I like both options, but at this particular moment in time, I would only be in favor of supporting enhanced buses, primarily out of concern that the city could plunge itself back in the abyss of debt it has faced over the Target Center, the Convention Center, and the so-called “People’s Stadium.”
7. Will you push for body cameras on police if the department says they aren’t ready?
If I were on the City Council today I would certainly push for body cameras, but at the same time, I do believe there are some significant legal and ethical questions that must be discussed: How will the video be stored? Who will have access to these videos? Can cameras be turned on or off at will? How will witnesses or informants, who might fear retaliation, be filmed/not filmed?
Undoubtedly, early studies have demonstrated that body cameras have reduced complaints against police. This is important to me, because as I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m disappointed that the Civilian Review Authority was dissolved by our City Council, and I am not satisfied with the program that replaced it. This city needs complaints of officer misconduct to go down, and body cameras seem to help, but every time you make a step in the right direction there will be new questions that arise.
8. What is your stance on police involvement in foreclosed homes?
As I mentioned in last Saturday’s candidate forum, I absolutely do not believe that the police should be involved with removing homeowners from foreclosed homes. Our police are needed to protect our residents and our visitors, not to be the strong-arm of lenders.
9. What have you done and what do you plan to do to improve equality?
In the 1990s I worked on voter registration drives after the passage of the Motor Voter Act. More recently, I worked to stop last year’s state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and fought the Voter ID amendment as well.
What is the most effective, comprehensive way to improve equality throughout the city? Have a better wage policy. As a City Council Member, I would fight to make sure our state legislators increase the state’s minimum wage, above and beyond the $9.50 that has often been bandied about. I would work to enforce the ordinances that insist publicly funded projects pay their workers a livable wage. Indeed, those rules are already on the books, but too often they have been sidestepped or conveniently worked around.
If you want to truly diversify this highly segregated city, close the gaps that candidates often talk about (the achievement gap, the education gap, the opportunity gap), and make housing more affordable and accessible to all, pay a livable wage. It’s not easy, but it’s the smartest strategy to date.
10. Do you support women’s reproductive choice and gay marriage?
Unequivocally, yes. I actively supported the Vote No campaign in 2012 and contacted state legislators to pass the law allowing same-sex marriage in 2013. In the mid 1990s, I worked on behalf of NARAL and several of its state affiliates to protect women’s reproductive choices. Decades later, I still support women’s reproductive choice.
11. Backyard fires can affect quality of life for some residents. Do you support rules that would limit or eliminate backyard fires?
I would fully support rules that would limit backyard fires, but rules are only good if they are enforced. Based upon multiple conversations I’ve had throughout this race, it doesn’t seem that rules have been followed or enforced. This needs to change or the rules themselves need to change. I would hate to eliminate backyard fires entirely, but it seems clear that backyard fires present a real danger to the health of some of our residents. I am fully open to that discussion.
We do need to come up with a better way of monitoring fires, and enforcing the rules that are already in place. Some candidates have discretely suggested that they might be in favor of a backyard fire permit system, but they didn’t want to it publicly known, out of concerns of alienating potential voters. I would not be in favor such a permitting process, because, again, it would be too difficult to monitor and enforce.
12. Small businesses in the 12th Ward can face heavy bureaucratic load from the City of Minneapolis. Specifically, how would you streamline city regulations to make Minneapolis a more small business friendly place?
On the face of it, I generally reject the premise of this question. I am all for reviewing city regulations, and rewriting or eliminating ones that have no place in the 21st Century, but most regulations are in place for a reason: to protect the health and welfare of our residents and guests. I’m not going to make a libertarian argument to answer this question. I am more interested in making Minneapolis a more person-friendly place.
I believe the city has the right to inspect businesses to ensure that they have the proper equipment to produce the goods they are selling to the public. Undoubtedly, there are bad inspectors who need to be replaced, but that doesn’t mean that most regulations themselves are bad.
If this is actually a question about starting businesses, and the difficulty of the permitting process, then that is certainly a different question than one of “regulations.” The city has made efforts to streamline this process, and I encourage them to do more. I am generally pleased that our Department of Regulatory Services has been reorganized for over a year now, and has been integrated into our CPED, our new Inspections Department, and our Health Department.
Of course, there is more that can be done. For instance, the city could do a better job of hiring more officials who are culturally sensitive and are able to overcome language barriers with some of our new business operators. If it is hard for a person from Edina to form a business, it is without doubt more difficult for someone from Ethiopia to form one. We are a diverse city; our city workforce needs to reflect that diversity. The city could do a better job of breaking down barriers to lenders, and promote small business loans that would help in the early stages of founding a new business.
I will let other candidates use the standard, but tired phrase: “I will cut red tape.”